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Monday Morning Update 3/7/11

3-6-2011 8-50-14 AM

From Harvey: “Re: Mediware. Shares of MEDW popped 15% after hours Friday on no news.” That is interesting, especially on a down market day and for a stock that trades in a fairly narrow range. Maybe a deal is in the works and word leaked out. Or, maybe someone is buying up shares after the company’s recent good performance. I haven’t heard anything, but if you have, let me know. The two-year share price chart is above. Shares nearly tripled in a steady run despite poor market conditions.

3-6-2011 8-41-33 AM

From ClinicalWonk: “Re: Wayne Smith, CEO of for-profit hospital operator Community Health Systems, quoted from a Wednesday investor conference.” Here’s what Wayne, who holds $37 million worth of CHS stock and makes $10 million a year, had to say.

We’re all working on Meaningful Use. We’re working on it in terms of IT piece of this, which I absolutely think is a black hole when it’s all said and done. Everybody is talking about they have a zillion dollars worth of expense here or cost here, and the government is going to give them back a half a zillion. I don’t know how that works for other people, but it leaves you half a zillion short as far as I’m concerned, when it’s all said and done. And return on investment here is not all that great. We are very careful about how we think about how we deploy our capital, so the return is not all that great, either. So, that’s one piece.

3-6-2011 8-54-00 AM

From Dave Magadan: “Re: VITL chooses Medicity for Vermont’s HIE. That means GE Healthcare lost their contract in a state where they have a big footing. This wasn’t just a new contract – it was a complete replacement.” GE Healthcare was announced as the technology provider for the RHIO (as HIEs were known back then before they gave themselves a bad name that needed changing) back in 2006. GE is strong in Vermont because of its IDX acquisition.

From CMIOFlorida: “Re: AT&T. Looking for a CMIO to run its healthcare solutions division.”

Dilbert.com

From Luke O’Cyte: “Re: Dilbert. Today’s strip sums up many of the booth babe comments about HIMSS.” Nice! Maybe Scott Adams was writing from experience – those few folks who stuck around until Thursday of HIMSS 2005 in Dallas saw his keynote presentation that year (the other keynotes were John Chambers of Cisco, Barbara Bush, David Brailer, and the no-show Scott McNealy of Sun).

From Peter Groen: “Re: COSI Open Health site. It provides information on open source or public domain health IT solutions and might be of use to some of your readers.” I’m not big on giving sites free PR, but I’ll allow it in this case.

From Punxsutawney Phil: “Re: Pennsylvania Health Information Exchange (PHIX). Medicity won the contract. AT&T protested like they did when they lost the Florida bid to Harris. PA state procurement turned them down so AT&T sued the state. They cancelled the contract and will re-bid it, but project work has stopped and PHIX’s ONC money is threatened because the state hasn’t finished its selection.” Unverified.

Listening: the not-yet-released new album from R.E.M., streaming free on NPR until its Tuesday release. They had a dull spell in their 30+ years, but they’re sounding good again. Watching: a depressing commercial featuring Jamie Lee Curtis, who went seemingly overnight from a scream movie hottie to a gray-haired, Activia-swilling AARP cover girl.

I’ve posted the hot-off-the-press results of my reader survey. It’s a fun read, with some interesting stats (my favorite being that 87% of readers say reading HIStalk helps them perform their jobs better), some great suggestions for changes (improving the mobile device format and giving Dr. Jayne her own post, both of which I’ve already done as a result), and comments (“I’ve always wondered if you had a deal set-up where your identity will be revealed after your death. Similar to Deep Throat of Watergate fame.”). Thanks to all who responded, except for that last comment which forces me to contemplate my own mortality, especially since Inga just innocently asked me, “What happens if you get hit by a bus?” Bloggers don’t usually have succession plans, so I have no idea.

Here’s a to-do from the survey. If you want to help, let me know. The real value in this suggestion is requiring a new company looking for exposure to provide at least one happy client’s testimonial, which goes a long way in separating the wheat from the chaff:

Open a channel for "new" companies to provide a brief description of what they do. Kind of a "what’s hot or what’s new" type section. Companies would have to be small (five or less clients?), have proven success (one client testimonial), and be ready to expand. Might give the company and your audience a chance to connect. Would also allow the rest of us to learn about new things and maybe push us all to be better. I would offer to help edit/review submissions and I bet others would as well.

3-5-2011 10-07-23 AM

Lots of people went to HIMSS without attending any educational sessions, which is easy to do since the schedule encourages heading off the exhibit hall profit center. Few of those who did found the education sessions excellent, but most said they were at least OK. New poll to your right: of the booth features people have complained about, which (if any) should HIMSS ban? You can choose multiple answers and the poll will accept your comment.

Here’s a virtual tour of the Nashville Medical Trade Center, where HIMSS is the big signed tenant on the fourth floor, right next to the vendor showrooms (in a seamless and slightly uncomfortable blending of a supposedly patient-centered non-profit flanked by its purely commercial members). From the video: “Visitors for hospitals, clinics, professional practices, and other provider organizations move swiftly toward activities and informed purchasing decisions.” Sounds like a cross between the HIMSS conference exhibit hall and Cerner’s hard-selling Vision Center. Somehow as a HIMSS dues-paying provider member, I keep feeling more and more like a fresh meat prospect for its higher-paying vendor members in the business model that I always call Ladies Drink Free.

DrLyle wraps up HIMSS with a list of innovative companies to watch (congratulations to the several HIStalk sponsors who made his list) and a wrap-up of the HIT X.0 sub-conference, including winners of the HIT Geeks Got Talent competition.

3-6-2011 8-45-38 AM

Speaking of HIMSS wrap-ups, several people e-mailed to say that I needed to read that of the PACSman, a friend of HIStalk and master of radiology (a Black Sabbath pun that just popped into my head) trying to find his place in the IT-centric world of HIMSS. Pretty funny stuff.

Also funny: a high-ranking exec of a big vendor that was the subject of a unverified rumor I ran awhile back chastised me by e-mail, saying that “tabloid-type rumors” threatened the integrity of HIStalk. I responded nicely, saying (a) at least 80% of the rumors I’ve been running for eight years now turn out to be true to some degree; (b) if I’m hearing the rumors, chances are everyone else is, too; (c) rumors are, from the reader survey, the #2 most-liked HIStalk feature, barely behind the news; and (d) quite a few big industry news items came to light only because I’d run a rumor that turned out to be true. I liked the exec’s follow-up admission: “I am truly a fan of the service (and yes, I follow the rumors). It just sucks when it’s about us :-).” That’s an honest answer – every company loves reading rumors as long as they’re about someone else.

3-6-2011 7-25-53 AM

In a remarkably bold marketing campaign, the vendor of a system that transmits ECG readings from ambulance to hospital boasts that its product actually makes heart attack patients wait longer for treatment. That or the headline writer for the San Antonio paper isn’t very good.

3-6-2011 8-08-25 AM

Amcom Software, which provides paging and messaging software for a large number of hospitals, is acquired for $163 million by USA Mobility, the largest wireless medical paging operator.

Image Stream Medical raises $2 million in funding. The Massachusetts company sells OR video solutions that include a server-based video repository and broadcasting. Other than the new money, it must be pretty quiet there since their latest news release is from 2006. I’m not sure I’d trust a technology company that can’t keep its Web site updated.

3-6-2011 8-21-59 AM

Medical waste handler Stericycle apparently acquires NotifyMD for $50 million. The company provides call center services and automated calling applications for physician practices.

E-mail me.


3-5-2011 7-25-49 AM

From Aussie: “Re: Jon Patrick’s article. Mr. HIStalk, I have never seen a dissection (without anesthesia) of Cerner going to this depth. Unbelievable, although in the USA, one would be professionally dead in the HIT industry if even contemplating talking about these long known issues. Hope you will have the courage to publish something about it.” Professor Jon Patrick of the Health Information Technologies Research Laboratory of University of Sydney expands his writeup (currently in draft) about problems with the implementation of Cerner FirstNet in emergency departments in New South Wales.

You’ll love it if you sell against Cerner because everybody from doctors to software validation experts tears into FirstNet (and, by implication, Millennium in general) from every angle — usability, software and database design, and implementation methods. FirstNet competitors could create a fat anti-Cerner prospect piece just by excerpting from it.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily unbiased, it focuses on implementation of a single department application that didn’t go well for a variety of reasons (despite many successful FirstNet implementations elsewhere), it uses the unchallenged anecdotal comments of unhappy users who make it clear they liked their previous EDIS better, and it nitpicks (I wasn’t moved to find a pitchfork when I learned that the primary keys in the Millennium database aren’t named consistently).

But it is interesting when it tries to associate user-reported problems with observed technical deficiencies, such as why information known to have been entered sometimes disappears (problems with non-unique primary keys and referential integrity are mentioned – certainly the latter is a problem with many systems). 

In other words, it’s not just about Cerner or some ED project in Australia. The real message is that design and support patient care software is the Wild West at this point since we’re arguably still in the first generation of systems claiming to be clinical (even though they often are really business systems masquerading as such).

Products have long-uncorrected design flaws that were created in an urgency to get product to market regardless of the required compromises, all known to clinicians who work for those vendors (clinicians are often the booth babes of the vendor world — hired to attract prospects but given no real authority). There’s no oversight or accountability beyond what vendors choose to provide and that decision is often made based on vendor staffing, budget, or individual managerial prerogative. 

Here’s my conclusion. Start with Part 7, which is definitely worth a read. Forget Cerner specifically and focus on sloppy software design practices and poor usability. We know it exists throughout the industry and this is a good primer on what can go wrong. Examples:

The takeaway is that patient care software is far from perfect, but we already knew that. What’s more interesting is how vendors respond to well-documented reports of specific software problems that impact patient care.

I see it every day. My hospital’s vendor has a huge list of problems we’ve reported that don’t get addressed for a variety of reasons: the problems are limited to sites that use a system in a particular way (i.e., the vendor doesn’t think it’s worth fixing since few clients are complaining), they don’t want to tackle the issue because doing so would require an expensive rewrite of a badly designed system, or they don’t have the resources. All of these are logical answers unless you are one of our patients harmed as a result.

I spend a lot of my time on looking at patient safety related to IT and it’s not pretty. Much of it relates to user error, but that, too is a reflection of software design. If IT systems were drugs, you’d see quite a few black box warnings and probably some recalls. The resulting negative publicity would push the vendor in ways no single hospital can do.

I’d like to see mandatory public disclosure of known patient-impacting software defects using a standardized classification system, whether vendors do it themselves or someone else (FDA) has to step in. We customers and our patients often find out about known problems the hard way, and we don’t have much clout to get problems addressed since we’ve already signed on the line which is dotted. This article, if nothing else, is a good reminder of where the industry stands and a reminder that we have the opportunity to make it safer.

Like clinicians, vendors don’t harm patients intentionally, however, and nothing is ever as easy as it looks from the cheap seats outside of vendor-land. The same naysayers who predictably and monotonically chant the “HIT is evil” mantra at every opportunity haven’t been all that effective because their only implied solutions are naive: every software vendor should just drop everything (including profits) and rewrite systems with the involvement of self-proclaimed experts such as themselves, thereby fixing everything (they obviously haven’t seen the horrors of newly written software or applications designed by ivory tower informatics experts).

Somewhere between “we vendors are doing the best we can given a fiercely competitive market, economic realities, and slow and often illogical provide procurement processes that don’t reflect what those providers claim they really want” and “we armchair quarterbacks critics think vendors are evil and the answer is free, open source applications written by non-experts willing to work for free under the direct supervision of the FDA” is the best compromise. Obviously we’re not there yet.

That’s why I advocate transparency before anything else. Let the industry know the extent of the problem and let that information drive the solution. This article (and others) are building a case for that level of openness about patient-impacting systems.